Renée with Fan

After a painting by Barbara Rogers

I stand in the jungle,
dressed in white,
my turban tied.

I’ve been here for years
in my jewels,
wearing the same
red smile,

always ready
for something rare,
bringing a crystal bell

or stained-glass ladder
through ferns
and rubber trees,
the rush of breathing.

A flamingo lifts
its wings
but does not fly;
leaves turn silver.

brings dreams
shifting like sand,
the moon’s whisper.

Somewhere near
there is always the toll
of the sea,

there is always the
taste of ash on my lips,
the wait.

— Lucille Lang Day

From Fire in the Garden,
first published in Transfer

Reject Jell-O

The man I married twice—
at fourteen in Reno, again in Oakland
the month before I turned eighteen—
had a night maintenance job at General Foods.
He mopped the tiled floors and scrubbed
the wheels and teeth of the Jell-O machines.
I see him bending in green light,
a rag in one hand,
a pail of foamy solution at his feet.
He would come home at seven a.m.
with a box of damaged Jell-O packages,
including the day’s first run,
routinely rejected, and go to sleep.
I made salad with that reject Jell-O—
lemon, lime, strawberry, orange, peach—
in a kitchen where I could almost touch
opposing walls at the same time
and kept a pie pan under the leaking sink.
We ate hamburgers and Jell-O
almost every night
and when the baby went to sleep,
we loved, snug in the darkness pierced
by passing headlights and a streetlamp’s gleam,
listening to the Drifters and the Platters.
Their songs wrapped around me
like coats of fur, I hummed in the long shadows
while the man I married twice
dressed and left for work.

Lucille Lang Day

From Wild One, first published
in The Hudson Review

Neural Folds

For John Teton

The frog embryos spin,
a million tiny skaters
in bright sacs. Soon
neurons will web each body,
spreading fine mesh
through muscle and skin.

First, the neural folds
must fuse. Crest cells
edging a moon-bald field
reach with bulbous arms;
flowing inward, they move
toward each other.

And when they finally meet,
melding together, cell by cell,
there is no explanation:
they know who they are.
I can almost hear them
yammering in strange tongues.

Lucille Lang Day

From Self-Portrait with Hand Microscope,
first published in The New York Times Magazine


The infinitesimal infinity dances—
a speck of force
at the edge of a petal, where
electrons are leprechauns
that always slip away
and have no quarks.

The hand-sized infinity opens—
an ivory rose
unfolding in the fifth
through tenth dimensions.

I keep it in a vase
on a lace-covered table
in the family-sized infinity
whose rooms collect dust
galaxies composed
of mites and minute
particles of skin.

Set theory says there is
an infinite number
of infinities of different sizes,
but as each leaf curls
and one by one
the petals let go,
I wonder if omega
might equal one
and the stars might slow
and dim like fireflies.

No! Let the universe
shrink to a pinhead,
then explode in flames
where possibilities bloom
endlessly again
among blue-striped roses
in new time and space.

Lucille Lang Day

From Infinities

From How to Encourage Girls in Math and Science

It is a fact of American life today that family survival is dependent on the abilities and incomes of all adults. The kinds of mathematical and technical skills we need to care for our own needs, to be creative, and to survive in the job market escalate daily. At the current pace, computer technology may soon be as basic to literacy as reading and writing. As a society, we cannot afford to inhibit the creativity of over half our population. In these times of economic and environmental crisis, the quality and effectiveness of our social solutions depend on the perspectives that women, as well as men, bring to science and technology.

Joan Skolnick, Carol Langbort,
and Lucille Day


Dance defines movement:
this is how fish
flit and dip in blue light
lacing kelp blades,
a quiver of spines.

And this is how starfish
watched by stalk-eyed crabs
consume the slow urchins.
Anemones open and close
like green hearts; sea worms
roll in the waves.

Watch now, the sea
lifts from its shell-bowl.
The galaxies expand.
Even in the egg slime
four-horned chromosomes
leap, then recede like stars.

Lucille Lang Day

From Lucille Lang Day: Greatest Hits,
1975-2000, first published in Contemporary
Women Poets (Merlin Press)

God of the Jellyfish

The god of the jellyfish
must be a luminous, translucent bowl
the size of a big top,
drifting upside down
in an unbounded sea.

Surely this god, hung
with streamers and oral arms,
ruffled and lacy
as thousands of wedding gowns
and Victorian bodices,
created all the jellyfish of Earth.

Male and female, god created them
in god’s own image:
the cross jellies and the crystal jellies,
the sea nettle and the golden lion’s mane,
the sea wasp and the Portuguese man-of-war—

and gave them nerve nets instead of brains
to ensure their humility,
put statoliths like tiny pearls
in their sensory pits
to give them balance,
and placed spines on their nematocysts
so they could capture food
and would sting and burn any
living thing
that would harm them.

And the god of the jellyfish
gave them ocelli
that shine like the eyes on a butterfly wing
when they turn toward the light,
and now their god watches over them
with god’s own great ocellus
as they swirl and dive
in glistening cathedrals, and does not
expect worship or even praise:
the iridescence
of their umbrellas will suffice.

— Lucille Lang Day

From God of the Jellyfish, first published
in The Cloud View Poets (Arctos Press)

Playing “St. Louis Blues” at Auschwitz

Consider all possible universes:
the ones that quickly collapse
into black holes, the ones filled
with double-crested cormorants,
Queen Anne’s lace and quasars,
the ones that glow with blue
and yellow stars that last forever,
the ones with only planets wrapped
in poison atmospheres and deserts.

Picture the planet Earth in one
possible universe, where at first
only a faint sound comes out
of the trumpet at Louis Bannet’s
frozen lips, then a few sputtered notes
as the guards walk toward him.
Frostbitten from head to toe, he lifts
the trumpet, tries again, and the guards
stop when “St. Louis Blues” begins.

They change like water going
from ice to liquid, like the universe
blooming from nothing at the Big Bang.
He plays as people go off to work.
He plays as the trains come in,
“Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea,”
in one possible universe, where moments
are stacked liked cards, the past with no
existence, except in the present.

Moments are shuffled and reshuffled
to give the illusion of time and history.
Everything happens at once and forever.
Somewhere Bannet is still playing
“Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Tiger Rag”
at a party for Dr. Mengele, hidden
from the guests behind some plants,
and in all universes where trumpets blast,
as long as he plays, he lives, they dance.

Lucille Lang Day

From The Curvature of Blue

From Chain Letter

This letter is for good luck.
It has been around the world nine times
in a bottle. The original is buried
in a time capsule underneath
the Tower of London.
You will receive good luck
within four days. This is no joke.
All you need to do is send out
10,000 copies within 24 hours.
The chain comes from the Galápagos.
Charles Darwin brought it back
with him on the H.M.S. Beagle

— Lucille Lang Day

If the Poem Is Broken, How Can the Sunflowers Breathe?

They can’t. The desert sunflower,
the slender sunflower,
Nutall’s sunflower,
the Kansas sunflower
and the California sunflower
will all hang their heads.
Stomata will close
on diamond-shaped,
lancelike, and oval leaves.
You must help me keep
the poem intact
to let the sunflowers breathe.

Lucille Lang Day

From The Book of Answers, first published in Brevities